Saturday, June 06, 2009
I gently lowered the large ceramic pot, filled with steaming-hot chicken curry, into a heavyweight shopping bag and headed for the subway.
It was time for that annual back-to-school tradition at our downtown elementary school, the parents' potluck dinner. A chance for parents to meet one another, meet the new teacher outside of the classroom and avoid talking too much about your own child in the process. Good food, the wine would flow and it would no doubt be held in some airy, well-appointed loft in Tribeca.
Not a bad way to spend an evening.
My husband did the daily drop-off and pick-up of our children every day at school and quickly got to know the other parents or babysitters or nannies, as they congregated in the school yard each morning and afternoon. I, on the other hand, had to be at my office the same time that the school bell rang. So we all left the house together each morning, Dads hopping on the downtown train with the girls to head to school while I got on the uptown train to go to work. I never got the chance to mingle with the other parents in the schoolyard.
Having attended half a dozen of these for our older daughter's classes already, my husband bowed out of this particular night, this year's kindergarten class get-together. Someone had to stay home with the girls, and baby sitters are pretty pricey in NYC, so he offered to whip up a massive amount of his specialty and send me off with his regrets. Tonight, he'd draw the girls bath, do the bed-time story thing - yes, they'd have to endure another patois-accented mangling of Green Eggs and Ham - while I munched on fussy appetizers and sipped chardonnay, and return home late with my full report.
I took the downtown R train and headed for Chambers Street. I was looking forward to a night out solo; and with a downtown Tribeca crowd in attendance, it was bound to be an interesting party. Although our kids attend public school, this particular crowd ranked fairly high on the big-shot meter. A hugely-popular public school, many dowtown parents, regardless of their resources, enrolled their kids here before shipping them off to private school after 5th grade. You never know who you're going to bump into at the PTA.
For starters, our hosts for the evening were an Assistant United States Attorney, lauded for his high-profile prosecutions of violent mob and gang activity, and his lovely wife, a Deputy District Attorney in the Special Victims Unit in Manhattan. Our youngest daughter had immediately bonded with their twin girls during the first few weeks of kindergarten. Likewise, the Editor-in-Chief of a major publishing house and her writer husband were there -- she immediately asked for Peter when I came in the door, which made me smile. Let's just say that reading isn't one of my husband's past times, yet this publishing powerhouse was looking forward to shooting the breeze with him.
Around me were heavyweights of all sorts -- an art gallery representative for a well-known German artist, the star of an HBO drama series, a fashion model, several architects and more lawyers than one would ever hope to convene outside a courthouse. As a couple, I suppose you could call us the poor, country cousins from the East Village; no six-figure income for us. But what we lacked in economic status, we more than made up for with our artsy-international vibe. I was glad to meet some of these moms and dads for the first time, after hearing so much about their children from my daughter and my husband and, it turns out, many were curious to see just who WAS Haille's mommy.
The dining room table was set up buffet-style, full of plates of the usual potluck fare -- pastas, elaborate salads, crudites, cheese and crackers. Much of the food, although appealing, appeared to have been prepared and purchased at a local Food Emporium or Whole Foods. Good stuff, not inexpensive, but not home-made. A statuesque, dark-haired woman with wire-framed glasses stood across the table from me, perusing the choices. She looked up and smiled, introducing herself as "Suzanne, Elizabeth's mom." She wore a formal business suit, clearly having come to the party straight from work. I introduced myself and agreed that everything "looked so tasty." I put down my shopping bag and lifted out the ceramic pot and heaved it up onto the table.
"Well, here's another tasty addition, Suzanne. Authentic, home-made Jamaican curried chicken." I lifted the lid and she took a peek inside.
"Woooow," she said. "That smells SO good. Did your Nanny make it?"
She didn't really ask me that. Yes. She did.
I blinked at her, uncertain what to say for a few seconds. It was the harsh reminder of the world I was now moving in, a world where nearly every couple held two high-powered jobs, working long hours to pay for their enormous loft apartment and the vacation house in the country, and the Lexus SUV. And kept a Nanny or part-time babysitter on staff to chauffeur their children to and/or from school, feed them their dinner and put them to bed.
"No," I smiled, "my husband made it. He's Jamaican and an excellent cook."
Now it was Suzanne's turn to blink, speechless. Her cheeks reddened and she sputtered, "Oh, well, I can't wait to try it," and she heaped a few spoonfuls of the saffron-colored chicken chunks onto her plate. And quickly backed away from the table, nodding and smiling.
No, I had not married your typical downtown big shot. Not a lawyer nor an investment banker, not a gallery owner nor a film producer. I married a down-to-earth country man, from rural Jamaica. He had little formal education nor worldly experience. He was old school, rootsman skanking. No three-piece suits nor flashy sports cars, no summers in the Hamptons nor winters at Vail. We could never afford a nanny.
Nor would we ever want to have one.
That was the compromise we made.We'd live off of my salary, sufficient but not hefty, and my husband agreed to be the stay-at-home parent and work a menial part-time job. We struggle, but we survive and we both spend more hours with our kids than most of the couples I met at that party. Combined. Not a judgment, but a choice.
The rest of the party was a blur. I met many other parents, some of whom would turn out to be long-lasting friends. Before too long, the wine was gone, the chicken curry pot was scraped clean right to the bottom and it was time to call it a night.
I headed for the subway, lugging the shopping bag with the now-empty curry pot, and got on the train back uptown to the East Village. It was late for a week night, past 10pm, and the train was pretty empty.
A tall, well-built, dark-haired man followed me onto the train and sat on the bench directly opposite me. I glanced up at him briefly and then did a double take. He smiled at me briefly, one of those closed-mouth quick flashes of a smile and then he looked away. He knew I'd recognized him despite the five-o-clock shadow and the forgettable, comfortable clothes. He was dressed down, just khakis, a tee shirt and a worn-out pair of Converse. I knew instantly, unmistakably, that it was him.
It was Big.
Yes, it was. It was Mr. Big. You know who I mean. And if you don't, you've been living under a rock for the past 10 years.
He was the bigshot who epitomized the zeitgeist of our generation in New York City in the mid 2000s. He was Carrie's dream man. And her disappointment. He was smart and sexy, ambitious and cynical, wealthy and powerful. And kept letting her down. You had to love, and hate, Mr. Big. We had hoped he and Carrie would work it out in the end, but the exquisite pain of the journey was, indeed, what gripped us. Would they or wouldn't they?
And there he was, sitting just a few feet across from me and my empty pot of chicken curry on the uptown R train. Without the HBO-issued Prada suits nor Cohiba cigars, he didn't cut quite the same figure but, still. It WAS Big. God damn Mr. Big.
How many single women who tuned in each week, were looking for love and longed for their own Mr. Big? Or, at least, a Mr. Big who would commit and settle down and make all their dreams come true? They'd have the enormous loft in Tribeca or the Junior 4 on Park Avenue, the country house in Bridgehampton, the Beemer or Benz, the beautiful Polo-ad kids. And the Nanny.
They would have hit it Big alright.
But would Big know how to give the babies a bath if you weren't home? Or prepare a bush-tea concoction from scratch to calm an upset infant's belly? Or have a huge pot of curried chicken waiting for you on the stove, after your long, hard day at work? Probably not.
So, goodnight, Mr. Big, nice seeing you but this is my stop. I got off the train and looked over my shoulder as Mr. Big continued on uptown. My rootsman skanking, top-ranking, was waiting for me and I had a full evening's story to tell.
Posted by VH McKenzie at 9:10 PM